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Prescriptive Scrum

Is It the Need of the Hour or Doomsday?

01/06/2014 by Arijit Sarbagna

Going through the Agile Manifesto teaches us so very many things -- things that are not only important to understand about Agile but also about life (at least I feel that way). But don't panic, I will not be talking about life here -- rather, we will focus on Agile and Scrum. Amen!

If you practice Agile, you must have come across the ever-new demon called "Prescriptive Scrum."

What is this, actually? What are its symptoms?

Let's assume we are working on an Agile project, where our Agile rollout has not been top-down but rather a futile attempt at "bottom-up." In such cases, it's likely that we are missing out on that crucial element called "management buy-in." Lacking this support, we are probably stepping into a state where most of our good intentions of creating a self-organized team will hit a dead-end. And as a ScrumMaster or a coach, we will be spending most of our efforts convincing management (or our client, for the matter), rather than actually guiding our teams.

The Agile Manifesto says: The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.

But under such a scenario of Prescriptive Scrum, we will not have the required support to build a self-organizing team.

TeamsWhat could be the reason? There could be many! Perhaps we are dealing with the traditional mind-set, where people have not seen Agile succeeding (trust me, this is one of the major reason). By our very nature, we human beings oppose change. That is acceptable. But what is a significant pain is the fact that, more often, our management teams suffer from the dilemma of deciding how much leeway their teams should have in becoming "self-organized." This is the fun part, where we have to deal with management to explain how Agile works, and that in order to make it work, they should trust Agile. At times we do have to remind them that even Waterfall will not succeed, if we never trust our people. Trust is the pillar to success, and then we add our engineering practices around it.

The Agile Manifesto also says: Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.

But if we are suffering from Prescriptive Scrum, most likely we are being instructed by management as to how Agile should be done (or how it should not be done) -- this by a group of people who probably have not done Agile but have only been through theory and, to make things worse, some "failure stories."

So what do we conclude? Does it mean we are asking for a hard stop of Prescriptive Scrum? Probably not, since we, as Agile practitioners, don't control it. But we can always preach and encourage others to understand Agile and, accordingly, embrace the practice -- rather than enforce it.